Halloween has come and gone, and the Great Pumpkin never showed up. Does no one care about sincerity in pumpkin patches anymore? It’s all this commercial farming, I’m sure. Anyway, here are my thoughts on one thing I watched for the first time, and two others I’ve seen several times but I don’t think I’d really reviewed before.
Terrifier – This low-budget horror movie from 2016 gained a following some time after its release, and recently got a sequel. Beth saw this at home and then the sequel at the theater. I didn’t go with her, but she did show this to me afterwards. I’ll probably watch Terrifier 2 sometime soon. The movie is basically about a clown who goes on a killing spree on Halloween night, not a totally original idea, but I think they did a good job in making Art the Clown a distinctive character. He wears all black and white, more of what I would think of as an early twentieth century clown outfit. And he never talks, but does do a lot of mime and makes heavy use of facial expressions. He’s also a very brutal and often creative killer, using stuff that he carries around in a garbage bag. He saws one girl in half and cuts off a guy’s head, both showing some incredible control with the saw. The film gives the impression at first that maybe Art wouldn’t have tormented and murdered the two main girls if they hadn’t made fun of him first, but he kills several other people with no provocation, so maybe that’s not the case.Another strange character is a woman who’s squatting in a derelict, rat-infested building with her cat (who apparently doesn’t scare any of the rats away), who thinks a doll is an actual baby and tries to comfort Art. There’s no real explanation for her; she’s just a strangely positive woman with severe mental illness.
The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t – Beth had seen this 1979 special many times as a kid. I don’t think I ever did, but she’s since shown it to me a few times. She owns it on VHS, under the later title of The Night Dracula Saved the World, which isn’t really accurate to the plot. I don’t think I’ve ever really written about it, though. It’s very corny and cheap-looking, as I’m sure you’d expect, but it also has a lot of charm to it. The premise is that this one particular witch has to fly over the Moon in order for Halloween to start, and she doesn’t want to do it because she feels unappreciated. It’s weird how many children’s specials involve a holiday almost being cancelled. I mean, Halloween or Christmas events can certainly be cancelled, but the day is going to happen no matter what. Count Dracula, who is referred to as king of the monsters, assembles other classic horror icons, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolfman, a zombie, and a mummy, and they go through some goofy antics trying to get the witch to play her part without acquiescing to her list of demands. The semi-educational part of this program comes in when a family is getting ready to trick or treat, and they talk about the origins of Halloween. Apparently this family lives in Transylvania, despite the fact that they’re clearly American. It’s the little girl in this family who convinces the witch to take her midnight ride. The whole thing ends with the monsters, appropriately enough for the time and the general style, having a disco party.
Return to Oz – Tavie insisted this was a Halloween movie, and sure enough, there is a mention early on that Halloween is coming up soon. I’ve written about this film before, but I don’t know that I’ve gone into a lot of detail. It’s kind of weird that, while I’ve seen it multiple times and own both the DVD and VHS, this was the first time Beth saw it. She just never really seemed interested. I know this movie scared a lot of kids, but I don’t remember being especially creeped out by it when I was a kid. I mean, parts of it registered as creepy, but I don’t know that they bothered me particularly. I definitely remember really enjoying it. I know I first saw it on video when I was around ten, and that was before I’d read any of the Oz books. When I did, I was impressed by how much from the books they took care to get accurate in the movie, including lines of dialogue and character designs. Their depiction of Tik-Tok is pretty much as accurate as I think they could have gotten at the time, and Billina looks and sounds great. Jack Pumpkinhead and the Gump had voices pretty different from how I came to imagine them after later reading the books (the Gump is even said in the text to have a squeaky voice), but they worked in the context of the film. And I think the whole thing looks amazing even today. But they also added a whole subplot about how Aunt Em, being worried about Dorothy being unable to sleep, takes her to an experimental electroconvulsive therapy clinic. And this is set in 1899, so the treatment that remains controversial even today then was basically just some pretentious weirdo shocking people, with the implication that it led to many of the patients receiving brain damage. Because I’m sure that’s what kids want to see in a movie, a kind of horror that doesn’t even have the whimsy of the Wicked Witch or Winged Monkeys from the MGM film, who were in turn more menacing than the characters in the book. Aside from that, I’ve heard some discussion about how the Oz scenes are way scarier than in the books even though they’re pretty close to how they’re described, which probably has a lot to do with how L. Frank Baum wrote about them. Sure, the idea of Princess Langwidere changing her head is kind of creepy, but Baum describes it in a rather humorous way, part of the joke being that she changes heads instead of clothes. He even says that she always wears a simple gown to focus attention on the heads, while Mombi (a composite character of the witch in the books and Langwidere) wears an incredibly elaborate (and pretty awesome) outfit.
There were some other things they made way scarier than in the original books or illustrations anyway, like the Wheelers‘ masks and Mombi’s horrific screams.
Sure, the first guy is pretty grotesque, but he doesn’t look post-apocalyptic. While I think the movie tries to make it ambiguous whether or not Oz is real, there are definitely some aspects that seem to follow dream logic, like how she immediately knows some random mountain she sees out the window of the palace tower is where the Nome King lives. Then again, in this continuity Dorothy and the farmhouse really were carried away by the tornado. I guess Aunt Em and Uncle Henry just assumed it landed somewhere nearby, and never cared to look for it. And there’s the weird psychological aspect with the Nome King wanting to make sure nobody remembers how Oz used to be, which for some reason turns him more human as he enchants the remaining Ozites. I’m not quite sure why he wants to be humanoid, although I guess there are advantages over being an enormous rock monster. Oz also seems to be tiny in this movie; it takes hardly any time for her to take the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, without any of the stuff she had to go through in both the book and the MGM movie, the former specifying that it took several days. It’s never even clear what happened to everyone in Oz outside the capital. Are they also turned to stone, or enchanted in some other way? Aside from a brief comment by Dorothy wondering what happened to the Munchkins, it’s not even addressed. Whether this is supposed to make it dreamlike or just a result of sloppy production, I couldn’t say. I’ve also looked before at how Oz might be more of a parallel world filled with duplicates of people in ours than a dream in Disney’s take on it, although there’s certainly some overlap between those ideas. Even as a kid, I noticed similarities to another favorite of mine, The Neverending Story, and that also had the child’s guardian being disturbed by his kid having an imagination. That was kind of a thing in the eighties, I guess. At least in those the imagination-hating parents didn’t blow up like in Time Bandits. It’s kind of a mixed message, because it’s ostensibly pro-fantasy, yet at the same time can’t let the fantasy world just stand on its own without reducing it to a way for the hero to work out their mental issues. Of course, it is possible to do both.
Return to Oz is a good movie, but I wouldn’t NOT recommend showing this to young kids, it is just too dark, I mean that whole subplot of Dorothy getting Electro Shock Therapy is NOTHING Baum would approve of. (thanks Disney! 😡)
That was one use for electricity Baum DIDN’T predict in The Master Key.
I’m pretty sure even Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla thought electricity would be used in that way.
I mean’t, I’m pretty sure even Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla never thought electricity would be used in that way.
I’ve noticed that some people familiar with Return to Oz seem to walk away with the misconception that the books are really dark and twisted, though they’d probably find that the stuff that came across as disturbing in the film doesn’t really read that way on the page.
I never thought of Return to Oz as a Halloween movie, but I can see why some people might. It definitely has a spooky/creepy atmosphere. Personally, I tend to be of the opinion that something isn’t necessarily a Halloween movie just because it takes place on or around that holiday, just as I believe that movies like Die Hard or Gremlins or Eyes Wide Shut aren’t really Christmas movies. Of course, there are a ton of Halloween-appropriate movies that have nothing to do with the holiday itself.
I only caught The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t one time as a kid, but when I saw it again as an adult, I realized that I remembered a few parts of it fairly well, especially the ending. A couple days ago I watched the Rifftrax version, and those guys were pretty rough on something that was intended for children. They’ve been just as hard on other kids’ films, but I felt like this particular Halloween special wasn’t as deserving of brutal mockery as some of the other stuff they’ve riffed. It slightly rubbed me the wrong way and I don’t know why. It’s not like I grew up with that special… though I did sort of grow up watching Taxi and the Rifftrax guys were particularly mean to Judd Hirsch for some reason. Granted, his campy Dracula is not on the same level as his Oscar-nominated performance in Ordinary People, but it just felt like they had something against the actor.
I think pretty much every horror movie has become a Halloween movie by default, even ones that clearly take place at other times of the year.
What’s scary is a very personal thing. When I think back to what disturbed me as a kid, a lot of it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think there are elements to the Oz books that seem disturbing when described, they aren’t generally written that way, and they were advertised as not causing any troubled dreams.
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